A century-long relationship will soon come to an end.
The Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts of America announced they will sever ties next year, the latest move in what’s been a slow separation between the two groups as their ideological differences have widened.
In a joint statement released late Tuesday, the church said its membership is increasingly living outside the United States and it “felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally.”
As a result of the split, which formally takes place in December 2019, the Mormon Church plans to place the 425,000 boys currently enrolled in the Boy Scouts — it is the largest participant in Scouting in the U.S. — into a Gospel-focused youth program it is creating.
“The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process,” read the statement. “We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.”
The separation between the two groups comes as the Boy Scouts has evolved on several issues, including allowing gays and transgender people into the organization, which has caused an uproar among some religious groups with ties to Scouting.
In 2010, the group’s executive board began what would become a two-year review of its policy on gays. Three years later, as the group faced criticism from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups, the Boy Scouts formally announced an end to its ban on gay Scouts.
And in January 2017, the Boy Scouts announced that it would allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in its boys-only programs.
In response, the Mormon Church last spring removed 185,000 boys between the ages of 14 and 18 from Scouting programs, signaling that an end to the longtime alliance was near.
Like many other conservative religions, the Mormon Church opposes same-sex marriage and teaches that being in a homosexual relationship is a sin. Shortly after the Boy Scouts shifted its position on gays, the church issued a statement saying it was “deeply troubled.”
Matthew Bowman, a historian of the Mormon faith who is a professor at Henderson State University in Arkansas, said the announcement of the separation is “a big deal, but it’s also one that’s been predicted for quite a while.”
“The BSA’s decisions to allow gay Scout leaders … have made it difficult for the BSA to serve as the Mormons’ de facto young men’s program,” Bowman said.
He added that since “the 1950s the number of Mormons outside the USA has risen dramatically, and since 1995 the church’s membership has been majority non-American, a ratio that has only continued to grow.”
“It has been apparent for quite a while that the church needs to develop a program for its young men that is less overtly American and more flexible, capable of providing a unified experience to young men in Africa and Argentina and Arizona while also being capable of adapting to local situation and circumstance,” Bowman said.
Indeed, more than half of the church’s 16 million members live outside the U.S. and Canada, according to statistics provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For the Boy Scouts, the separation signals a continuing decline in membership in recent years. The group currently has 2.3 million members, having decreased by nearly a third since 2000. The Mormon boys who will be leaving next year represent about 18.5% of the organization membership. (The church had automatically enrolled every boy who attends a Mormon congregation as a Boy Scout.)
In an effort to stanch a shrinking membership, the Boy Scouts recently announced it would admit girls into the Cub Scouts. And last week, the group, in a major shift, said it plans to change its name to the gender-neutral Scouts BSA.
“Speaking as an Eagle Scout, I’m disappointed the Boy Scouts program will no longer be the primary boys program of the LDS church,” Wahls said. “That being said, this is still an exciting time for the Boy Scouts, with the launch of its coed Scouting BSA program and continued innovation with new programs. Scouting’s timeless values, ethic of service and lifelong lessons are vitally important now more than ever.”
But some are more dismayed by the separation, which breaks a bond that began in 1913.
In 2013, the church put on an extravagant theatrical production in its 21,000-seat auditorium in Salt Lake City to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its alliance with the Boy Scouts. Moreover, a Boy Scout training complex in West Virginia is named after former Mormon Church President Thomas S. Monson, a longtime member of the Boy Scouts’ executive board and a major supporter who died this year.
Steve Rinehart, 42, an attorney from the Salt Lake City area who is a Mormon and an Eagle Scout, said that in the last couple of decades there has been a decline in enthusiasm for Scouting within the church.
“Like popular culture, things just go in and out of style,” Rinehart said Wednesday. “This has been a natural progression. People have just lost enthusiasm, which can be expected. … Nothing lasts forever. ”
3:20 p.m.: This story has been updated with a staff-written report.
This article was originally published at 8:20 a.m.